12 Haitian children remain in limbo

By The Associated Press ,
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Six months after a chaotic airlift to the United States, 12 Haitian children remain in a Roman Catholic institution in Emsworth, their fate uncertain while U.S. and Haitian authorities struggle to determine which nation should be their home.

Their case is complicated and politically sensitive, and all parties say they want the best outcome possible for the children. Yet, impatience in some quarters is growing.

″It’s astounding to me that the bureaucracy can’t get this done,″ said Gov. Ed Rendell, who took part in the airlift. ″It’s unfair to these children. Let’s get them adopted by loving families.″

Unlike about 1,100 other children flown out of Haiti to the United States after the Jan. 12 earthquake, the youths at the Holy Family Institute were not part of the adoption process before the quake and, according to some legal experts, shouldn’t have been eligible for  the emergency program.

There are American families eager to adopt them, including some who were screened and approved by adoption agencies. But federal agencies, the Haitian government and the International Red Cross are trying to determine whether the 12 should be put up for U.S. adoption or returned to relatives in Haiti.

The State Department, which oversees aspects of international adoption, is involved in the case but isn’t commenting. Two staffers, authorized to talk anonymously, described the case as complex and said there is no timeframe for resolving it. Officials are trying to verify information about the children’s families in Haiti.

They said no decisions would be made that were not acceptable to the Haitian government, which is wary of some post-quake efforts to send children abroad. In May, the leader of an Idaho church group was convicted of arranging illegal travel after trying to take children out of Haiti without government approval.

The children at Holy Family were part of an airlift of 54 children from the Bresma orphanage in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, where Ben Avon sisters Jamie and Alison McMutrie volunteered for several years. In response to their pleas for help, Rendell and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, organized the Jan. 19 airlift with officials from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

At Holy Family, the children by all accounts are receiving excellent treatment. They experienced their first snowfall during winter, took field trips to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, and enjoy a swimming pool during summer’s hot weather.

″The children had typical reactions to being whisked out of their country. … We had bed-wetting and tantrums,″ said Sister Linda Yankoski, the institute’s president. ″We’re not seeing that now. … They appear to be very well-adjusted.″

The children, ages 15 months to nearly 13 years, live together in a residence apart from the institute’s regular population. Creole-speaking volunteers joined the staff.

In hindsight, it’s clear that including the children in the airlift created a long-running dilemma. Yet federal and state officials defended the decision not to leave them behind in the confusion at the Port-au-Prince airport, saying the alternative would have been to send them back to an understaffed, undersupplied orphanage in a devastated city.

One couple seeking to adopt, Chad and Sherry Cluver of Forsyth, Ill., met with two of the children briefly in January but say they cannot contact the children and their last update from federal officials was June 15.

″We’re here, praying for you, loving you, and writing and calling important people for help — to bring you home,″ Culver wrote in a recent blog entry to the children, even though they were unlikely to read it.

Rendell said he contacted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the status of the case. HHS is parent agency for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for the children while they are in the United States but not up for adoption.

″I’m enormously frustrated,″ Rendell said. ″This diplomatic problem has to be worked out.″

Some adoption experts say it’s time to release the children for adoption.

″What’s in the best interest of these kids — to stay in an institution, or get them into a family?″ said Tom DeFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, which represents many U.S. adoption agencies. DeFilipo said parents or other relatives of all 12 children relinquished legal custody and endorsed their adoption by U.S. families.